It’s been an eventful summer. From an abortion shocker at the Supreme Court, to $5-a-gallon gas, to the FBI’s Mar-a-Lago raid, there’s been plenty to talk about. But at last, the drum beat has slowed. We’ve got a moment to think systematically about all we’ve seen, and to determine whether or not the Summer of 2022 meant anything at all.
In this newsletter, we’re going to do our best to answer 3 questions:
- Who won the Trump vs. Establishment primary match this summer
- Which party is poised to win in November
- Why we think that people are starting to cool-off after some very contentious years of culture war
DOES TRUMP STILL RUN THE REPUBLICAN PARTY?
We’ll have to wait until 2024 to get the last word on this, but we’ve got some key data points today.
At this moment, Trump’s record of primary wins and losses is 187-17, according to Ballotpedia. Don’t read into that too much though, because Trump endorsed a lot of safe incumbents. That means we need to approach this question from a different angle.
First, let’s talk about money. That’s what makes America tick. And in the money game, Trump is sitting on close to $99 million in donor cash. That’s just $5 million short of the $104 million war chest that Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans have amassed to divide between 35 races this fall.
There’s an important point that no one is making though: raising money is expensive. It’s like any other type of marketing – you pay for ads and hope to squeeze-out a profit once all the beans are counted.
But for Trump, the process is likely simpler. No need for Instagram ads and middlemen to bundle for you. All you need to do is email your millions of loyal followers and watch the dollars pour in. It’s not written down anywhere, but you can be sure that Trump is keeping a much higher percentage of every dollar he raises than Mitch McConnell – or any other politician, for that matter, save perhaps Bernie Sanders.
Trump’s strength is that he’s a direct-to-consumer brand. You might say that makes him a scam artist, but under either definition, printing money comes easily.
Now, about those MAGA vs. Establishment primaries.
Of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, 2 of them survived. So getting on Trump’s naughty list is a lot like getting on the CIA’s terrorist list: he (or they) will find you, wherever you are, no matter how long it takes, and anhilate you.
That’s lesson number 1: a Trump endorsement might not make your career, but an anti-endorsement will usually end it. No wonder Republicans are so scared of upsetting him.
About Trump’s biggest defeats. Notable ones occurred in South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, and Nebraska, and they shared a few common traits:
- The state party was united in opposition to Trump’s candidate.
- The establishment-backed candidates were highly qualified.
- The Republican field was not especially wide.
This maps directly onto the 2024 GOP primary.
If you recall, Trump secured the 2016 nomination in large part because the field of candidates was so big (17!) that a mere 25-35% of the vote was enough to win most states.
This is precisely what happened in this summer’s senate primaries.
Look at states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Arizona, where GOP strategists are mourning the candidates they’re stuck with. In these key places, Trump-endorsed candidates won with just 32%, 31%, and 39% of the vote, respectively.
Which gets us to lesson #2: if establishment Republicans want to beat Trump in 2024, then they must rally around one – at most, two – opposition candidates, to avoid letting Trump again dominate the field with a mere 35% support.
WHAT DO AMERICANS LIKE LESS? JOE BIDEN OR THE REPUBLICAN PARTY?
This is the implied question of the 2022 election. And it’s where the contradictions really start to pile-up.
If you believe polls, then here is how most people feel: Americans really don’t like Joe Biden; they are concerned about the economy, don’t like wokeness, and prefer the Republicans to address the biggest issues; but… they’d rather give the Democrats their vote in November.
For example, a recent Fox News survey found that:
- Joe Biden has an abysmal 42% approval rating
- 41% of voters listed “inflation and price increases” as their top concern
- Only 14% chose abortion, 7% chose guns and climate change
- On the key issue of “inflation and prices increases,” respondents gave the GOP a 55%-40% edge
Those numbers would make you think the GOP has a layup of an election ahead. But not so fast.
When it comes to the decisive contest this election – to decide control over the 50-50 senate – all of the prologue amounts to nothing. Right now, voters are inclined to give the Democrats another chance.
FiveThirtyEight’s polling average shows Democrats ahead by 10 points in PA, 2 points in GA, 8 points in AZ, 4 points in NV, and dead-even in Ohio.
Put another way, Republicans are struggling to defend the seats they’ve already got (Ohio and Pennsylvania), and are facing an uphill climb in the ones they need to flip.
No one really knows what the key constituency is in America, but the voters who will decide this election seem pretty lukewarm about putting the gameball back in Mitch McConnell’s hands.
So as we transition into “election mode” here at SSG, we’ll posit a few explanations for these contradictions. In no particular order, we’re evaluating these concepts as we begin to think harder about predicting 2022:
- Donald Trump has been driving the news again, thanks to contentious primaries and the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago. Trump’s favorability (or lack thereof) is comparable to Biden’s at 40%. So the anchor is dragging everyone else down
- Donald Trump’s scammy fundraising has exhausted GOP donors. Parched of money, down-ballot candidates in the House and Senate are struggling to define themselves to voters, while Trump hoards $100M of cash for his own uses.
- Voters dislike the Democratic Party’s turn towards woke identity politics, but leaders Schumer, Pelosi, and Biden wisely pivoted away from these issues over the summer and focused their attention on health care spending and China
- The sticker shock of inflation has ended and we are resigned to our pain
- The Dobbs decision (abortion) has reversed the usual electoral pattern: the minority party scored the biggest and most controversial victory this season, and now voters are punishing them the way they’d usually punish the ruling party (Democrats). This is a very rare thing, like getting a May snowstorm in California.
- Many MAGA candidates don’t believe what they’re saying and sound so phony that they’re repelling voters on both sides
And lastly, one more – perhaps the least likely – but worth considering:
- America is pivoting back towards normalcy, and split ticket voting is becoming more common
Yes, we’ve rattled-off a long list of contentious political stories, but for normal people, the summer was one where they debated which Top Gun movie was better.
Congress was focused on industrial policy vs. China, and pop-culture closed on an upbeat note with the #BamaRush TikTok phenomenon.
Tom Cruise, China, and sorority rush.
These are not the obsessions of bitter, polarized people. They feel like traditional water cooler talk from a distant era.
Green chutes of civility – maybe they’ll flower.
Now, it’s time to do the hard work: decide how things will change – because they always do. Subscribe to the podcast and check the blog for updates on that. They’ll be coming and coming fast.